Lovely post-match scenes in Ireland dressing room for 'retired' Michael Bent
"I do hope before the boots are hung up for good that there might be supporters back in the stands."
So said Michael Bent, back in April 2021, when he announced he would be retiring at the end of the 2021/22 season, after nine years with Leinster.
The 36-year-old, who arrived at Leinster in 2021, famously played for Ireland ahead of his new side after getting off a plane from New Zealand and being selected for a November Test win over South Africa. Bent's grandmother, Myrtle, was from Dublin but emigrated to New Zealand.
Bent got off a plane, got his Ireland kid, went training, someone handed him a hurl, and the rest was a little nugget of sporting history, and controversy, on this island. Some, including former Ireland captain Keith Wood, felt Michael Bent being parachuted into the national team, ahead of homegrown talents, did not sit right with them.
Michael Bent to the rescue
While Michael Bent ended up with just the four Ireland caps, due to the emergence of Tadhg Furlong and Andrew Porter, he became a Leinster stalwart. He made 164 appearances for the province and helped them to six league wins, a Challenge Cup and, in 2018, a Champions Cup.
Bent finished up at the end of last season with [in part] the following words:
"I’m aware that not everyone gets the opportunity to have nine years with a team, especially not one the calibre of Leinster so for that in itself, I’m incredibly grateful. I’ve been lucky enough to play alongside and against some of the greats with a team that has achieved so much.
"I’ll always consider Ireland my second home. It’s the birth place of my children and it holds so many memories for me and my family."
Bent had expressed his hope to run out in front of sizeable home support before he left Leinster, but there were still Covid-19 restrictions in place so crowds were kept small. He returned to New Zealand with his wife and two children, and with a life-time of memories.
Little did he know, then, but he would play one more game. For Ireland.
The first week of Ireland's summer tour to New Zealand saw Jeremy Loughman concussed, two minutes into the first game, and Cian Healy carted off with what looked like a bad leg injury. Ed Byrne was sent for, but Bent was in hand and had already been over to catch up with some of his old buddies.
The tighthead was out on the pitch, togged out for warm-ups and as a back-up option if any props picked up late knocks, at Eden Park before the First Test. In the end, he was not called on but Ireland did ask Andrew Porter to play the full 80 minutes as Healy's injury was still causing bother.
That looked to be that, until Finlay Bealham was not risked as a replacement for Wednesday's 30-24 win over the Maori All Blacks. A year after he retired, Michael Bent was back on the Ireland bench. He got on for the final five minutes, and got a professional rugby farewell in front of 12,000 fans, in Wellington.
After making his way off the pitch and up the tunnel, Bent got a lively, soaking welcome back to the Irish dressing room.
You can see, even from the short clip, how fondly the veteran prop is regarded, especially by those from Leinster that know him best. James Ryan and Robbie Henshaw were right in there, with James Lowe and Bundee Aki showering him with what he hope was water.
Up on the bench, a beaming Jamison Gibson-Park recorded all the antics on his phone, while Cian Healy was there with a handshake and a few warm words as the din died down.
You can watch the full, behind-the-scenes video below, with the dressing room welcome coming from around 12:35.
Stream the biggest sporting moments with NOW, including all the Test match between Ireland and New Zealand, on Saturday July 16 [from 8:05am].
“Keith Earls ain’t finished yet.”
Darren Cave and Greg O'Shea talk about their past experiences training and playing with Keith Earls and think that the people who don’t rate him as a great player don’t know what they’re talking about.